Common mistakes could have you serving up sickness for dinner

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Centers for Disease Control estimates 48 million people every year get a food-borne illness.

Mistakes in home kitchens are often to blame. When it comes to serving up food-borne illness, meat is the main course.

"It's kind of like the perfect storm of everything that microbes like to have," explained Stormont Vail dietitian Katie Odell, RD, LD.

Odell says many mistakes with food that put you at risk for food-borne illness come back to mishandling meat. For starters, don't leave meat on the counter to thaw.

"What that does is it exposes the meat to that temperature danger zone for a longer period of time, which allows those bacteria to just reproduce like crazy," she said. "Cooking takes care of a lot of the bacteria. Unfortunately, when you allow it to kind of overproduce, it could possibly not. Cooking doesn't get rid of all the sins of poor preparation."

Instead, put frozen meat in the refrigerator overnight - and put it on the lowest shelf so juices don't drop onto anything below.

Odell says the temperature danger zone for food is between 41 and 135 degrees. It's also is why you shouldn't marinate meat or seafood on the counter, or leave food out to cool for longer periods of time. Odell says refrigerate small batches immediately, larger items within two hours.

The juices from raw meats and seafoods are the reason why you should wash any plate, cutting board or knife used for raw meat with hot, soapy water before using it for anything else.

"You could potentially cross contaminate, which would be getting some of the bacteria from the chicken onto the apple which could be a big problem," Odell said, explaining the result could make a person "sick enough to be hospitalized, certainly. We're talking about fevers, diarrhea, vomiting."

Odell says it's always a good idea to wash fruit and vegetables.

"They might still have some pesticide residue or dirt and grime, things like that that we just don't want to be ingesting," she said.

The other thing to wash, and wash often, is your hands.

"Our hands are what introduce a lot of those bacteria into our food sources," Odell said.

Also remember, even food that was once safe can become a problem.

"If you can't eat leftovers before they're about four days old, don't try and eat them - don't taste test them - just throw them out," she said. "Don't take the chance."

A few other common mistakes include:
*Using the marinade from raw meats and seafood on cooked food
*Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood or eggs
*Eating raw dough, cake batter or other foods with uncooked eggs or uncooked flour - both could have salmonella

The CDC says about 3,000 people die from foodborne diseases each year in the U.S.